Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Taylor Hackford
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terence Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff, Regina King, Curtis Armstrong, Bokeem Woodbine, Aunjunue Ellis, Sharon Warren, David Krumholz, Patrick Bachau, Kurt Fuller
Fans would have expected that a biopic celebrating the life and times and music of the legendary musician the late Ray Charles, arguably one of the most influential musicians of the past fifty years, to be more inspirational and engaging. Unfortunately, this earnest biopic detailing much of Charles’ early career is something of a turgid slog at times. Ray clocks in at a bum numbing 150 minutes, and will have many looking at their watches or twisting restlessly in their seats long before the end. The only reasons to stick it out for the duration are the fabulous music, as most of Charles’ best known songs and biggest hits are checked on the great soundtrack, and Jamie Foxx’s superb performance, which is nothing short of a revelation.
This film is a labour of love for director Taylor Hackford (An Officer And A Gentleman, Idolmaker, etc), who has spent fifteen years developing the project and researching the singer’s life. Ray Charles is the blind pianist who embraced several different styles of music, from gospel to R&B to country, and was able to assume an unprecedented level of control over his own career, negotiating a better recording deal than even Sinatra had. In great detail, Ray tells his story, warts and all, from his impoverished origins in Albany Georgia, where he learned to compensate for his blindness with a thirst for life and enormous drive to succeed, battling prejudice and misplaced sympathy along the way, through to his enormous success. The film depicts his early years on the road spent establishing his career, through to his addiction to heroin and the womanising that threatened the stability of his marriage and home.
The film also looks at some of the more controversial elements of his life, such as his refusal to play segregated concerts in Georgia, which led to the state banning him for two decades. It looks at how he was haunted by the death of his younger brother at an early age through a number of increasingly irritating flashback sequences. Hackford is a workman-like director who lacks real flair or vision, and Ray often descends into cliche or unnecessary melodrama.Foxx (recently seen opposite Tom Cruise in the thriller Collateral) delivers the performance of his career as Charles, and it is obvious that he has done his homework.Foxx has nailed Charles’ mannerisms and style, and gives a note-perfect interpretation of the character that is astonishing in its depth and range. Solid performances also come from Regina King as Charles’ backup singer and increasingly bitter mistress and Kerry Washington as his faithful but long suffering wife. But in the end, the movie justifiably belongs to Foxx’s mesmerising, Oscar-calibre performance.